Why do people take extreme risks?

I wrote a post summarising some of the research on the motives for involvement in extreme environments for WellDoing.Org, a great ‘mind and body’ website curated by Louise Chunn. Here’s the start – click through to read the whole post on the WellDoing site.

Not Alex Honnold – but you can see some fabulous (copyright) photos of him on his website. Photo credit: ‘climber’ by Adam Kubalica

Imagine climbing up a sheer wall of rock without a rope. Missing a foothold, losing your grip, or encountering a falling rock could send you flying toward almost-certain death. Welcome to the precarious world of free solo climbing.

Alex Honnold is widely regarded as the world’s leading free solo climber. He has made some remarkable un-roped climbs, including the breath-taking 2000-foot walls of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The concentration required is extraordinary. Half Dome took three hours to climb the first time he scaled it, and Honnold was one slip away from death for every second.

Throughout history, people have chosen to take extreme risks. Activities such as climbing, mountaineering, polar exploration, deep-sea diving, space faring, and long-distance sailing all place extraordinary physical and psychological demands on people. To survive – let alone to thrive – in such conditions requires specialised equipment, years of training, and nerves of steel.

Why do people like Honnold choose such dangerous situations? It’s popular to assume that people who voluntarily choose to experience extreme activities are all ‘dare-devils’, risking their lives for thrills. That’s certainly true for some. But over the last few decades, psychologists have discovered that adventurers are driven by multiple, complex motives – motives as varied as the environments they seek out.

Read the rest of the post on the Welldoing site.

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